Rachel Ellett, Ph.D.


Beloit College

Country: United States (Wisconsin)

Research Interests

African Politics

Judicial Politics

Comparative Political Institutions

Comparative Democratization

Comparative Judicial Politics

Comparative Constitutional Law

Countries of Interest






My Research:

Rachel's book Pathways to Judicial Power in Transitional States, was published by Routledge in 2013. She has published in, among others, Comparative PoliticsJournal of Law and CourtsLaw and Social Inquiry and South African Institute of International Affairs. Rachel consults with Freedom House and has written reports on judicial independence in Lesotho, Malawi and Zambia. She has carried out extensive fieldwork in southern and eastern Anglophone Africa over the last fifteen years. Ongoing projects include a comparative study of Chief Justices and their role in securing judicial autonomy, the politics of judicial appointments and informal judicial networks and, women in the judiciary in sub-Saharan Africa. Rachel is also part of the Freedom of Expression database project run by Thomas Keck at Syracuse University. She is currently working on identifying and collecting freedom of expression constitutional jurisprudence from the African continent. 


Journal Articles:

(2016) “Rethinking Law and State Building in sub-Saharan Africa”, Law and Social Inquiry

This essay is a response to Mark Massoud's Law's Fragile State, and through comparative inquiry argues that highly contextualized analysis of courts is critical to gaining an understanding of judicial decision making and judicial empowerment. As Massoud demonstrates, focusing on the legal complex is a particularly worthwhile endeavor in fragile states. Although we may understand the sociology of the legal profession, we do not fully understand how professional networks, career paths, and identities truly impact the institutional pathways of the courts and the legal system as a whole.

(2014) “Judges and Their Allies: Rethinking Judicial Autonomy through the Prism of Off-Bench Resistance”, Journal of Law and Courts

The social construction of judicial power is a complicated process, especially in hybrid political regimes. We argue that off-bench resistance against blatant interference supported by vibrant social networks is an important manifestation of judicial autonomy. By drawing on evidence from field research, media coverage, and the existing scholarly literature, we clarify the logic of off-bench judicial resistance against external interference, outline a taxonomy of five strategies of resistance in hybrid regimes, and explain the political implications of off-bench judicial behavior

(2011) “Reworking Strategic Models of Executive-Judicial Relations: Insights from New African Democracies, Comparative Politics

In emerging African democracies, why do judiciaries experience high levels of government interference in some contexts and not in others? Original research conducted in five commonwealth African countries reveals that conventional strategic approaches do not effectively account for patterns of executive interference with the courts in the African cases. An alternative theoretical framework, focusing on the extent to which leaders face acute personal insecurities and the extent to which the courts represent a threat to power holders, proves more effective.

Books Written:

(2013) Pathways to Judicial Power in Transition States: Perspectives from African Courts, Routledge

This book examines the complex relationship that exists between the construction of judicial power, and the institutional characteristics of the courts and their regime setting. It examines the intriguing connection between the construction of judicial power on the one hand, and the institutional characteristics of the courts and regime setting on the other. The book asks whether courts are rendered powerful by virtue of their institutional characteristics or by a supportive, perhaps acquiescent, regime setting. By analyzing the historical pathways of courts in Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi, this book argues that the emergence of judicial power since the colonial period, though fraught with many challenges, presents a unique opportunity for consolidating democracy. The book examines in detail the significant political decisions of the upper-level courts in Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi from the colonial period to the present day, analyzing them in relation to changes in the political environment over time. Analysis of these decisions is also supplemented by in-depth interviews with judges, lawyers and other important stakeholders in the judicial processes. This book demonstrates that even in the most challenging regime environments, effective institutions and determined individuals can push back against interference and issue politically powerful, independent decisions but the way in which judiciaries respond to this regime pressure varies enormously across countries and regions.